Drive vs Fly with Three Sub-5 year olds

Todd Baker

Earning My Ears
Joined
May 12, 2018
First Disney trip for our family coming up May 2019. We're in San Antonio and are currently debating a drive to Florida (the initial choice) vs flying (more recently discussed). Travelers include myself (49), my wife (37), and 5 yo DD, 3 yo DD, and 2 yo DS. Limited long drive excursions with the kids so far have led us to conclude that while they'll probably do fine on the drive provided we stop, stretch, etc.. (planning on 2.5 days to drive) the hotel stays may be more problematic. They generally don't sleep well in these settings (condo in Port Aransas, Tx for beach trip and two-night stay at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine last August). This leads to sleepless (or near-sleepless) nights for us and if driving, more misery and even safety concerns. On the flip side, they've never flown and so how they'd handle that is unknown.

Curious about others' experiences with both options especially if each was done relatively close to the other whether to Disney or not. Our ultimate experience may not be the same but I like to hear how things have worked out for others. the pros and cons of each option (some maybe not as obvious as others), and what strategies they found useful to cope with the expected and unexpected.

I enjoy reading the various threads on DIS Boards. Its really too much information to sift through with limited free time for such things. I'm sure then that this topic has been explored at some point so excuse my ignorance. Any helpful opinions are appreciated! Thanks.
 

unrequited23

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 26, 2015
We live about 20 hrs away if we drove straight through...we live about 20 mins away from an airport that offers direct flights to Orlando on various airlines. The flight takes about 2.5 hrs. We have taken our chances with discount airlines and have had good luck thus far and seem to pay under $700 for 4 round trip flights, 3 checked bags and choosing seats. I was anxious when we flew the first time but the kids did great. (They were 5 and almost 3 at the time.) We haven't taken too many long road trips, just about 4 hrs away from home. One those we go about 3 hrs, then have lunch somewhere with a play area and get back on the road. One time we drove overnight about 6 hrs away-we left a little before bedtimes and my son woke up at 2:30am when we were checking into our hotel, freaked out and refused to sleep.

I'm more worried about your family trying to do a Disney vacation if your kids have trouble settling down in a hotel room. Do the kids need separate sleeping areas? Do they need nightlights? Less light? Sound machines? Pillows from home? The same bedtime story as at home? We bring a sound machine, 1 stuffed animal each and the same book when ever we stay away from home or if the kids stay over their grandparents. When we get into our room we show each kid where they will be sleeping and put their animal in their spot and try to follow the same routine we do at home.
 

a1tinkfans

Spreading Some Pixie Dust Today!
Joined
Aug 12, 2006
I think flying has many advantages. You can choose the time of the flight... perhaps later in the evening, so they’ll sleep?
A small backpack per child with his/her fav
Things and simple snack. A special small surprise for being so well behaved inflight.
Those typical flying aids.. earplanes for kids ( just in case), lollipops and/or gum and before you know it you ve arrived

Whatever you decide ... safe travels and enjoy making those lifetime memories!
 
  • crazylady

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Apr 22, 2012
    I'd fly. 17 hours in a car with 3 little kids sounds miserable. Spreading it over 2 1/2 days sounds even worse.

    I only have two kids, but I've flown with both of them by myself many times. They are 3 years apart. I think with two adults you can keep them happy and occupied on a plane for a few hours. I would try for a morning flight when the kids are well rested. Video games, movies, sticker books, snacks are all good things to occupy them.

    Edited to add: My worst flight with them was the year they were 2 & 5. We took and an afternoon flight hoping for a nap and the 2 year old was not having any part of that. He was extra demanding because of it. By contrast we took a road trip at about 18 months and 3ish. A seven hour trip took us 10+. My kids aren't great car travelers.
     
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    SpartanMommy

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Feb 21, 2013
    You should fly. (And that is coming from someone who hates airplanes and would rather drive.) If your kids have trouble sleeping in different beds, it’s not worth the extra sleepless nights, time, and energy it would take to drive. You would be starting your vacation out on a bad note and everyone would be tired and cranky. It would be much better for your family to get there without any additional hotel stays. Hopefully they would be able to settle into the hotel in Disney and start sleeping better after a night or two.
     
  • maxiesmom

    The Mean Squinty Eye Works
    Joined
    Jul 6, 2004
    I would fly. I agree with SpartanMommy, why start out at WDW with everyone tired and cranky?

    If you do decide to drive, no way would I try and do it straight thru. That is coming from someone who was sleeping in the back when the driver fell asleep at the wheel, and the person in the passenger seat yelled in time to avoid a wreck. It is not safe.
     

    sponica

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 16, 2017
    I'm about 20 hours, and I'd totally drive, if my husband would sign on to driving.
    Honestly, I would do whatever is cheaper and a 17 hour drive should not take 2.5 days. I would stop after 4 hours for a quick break/leg stretch, drive another 4 then spend the night, then get up and do the same thing the next day.

    Disclaimer: My father was in the army and always DROVE when being PCS'd. The last trip was 3 kids UNDER 4 from AZ to CT.
     

    mjkacmom

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 20, 2006
    I’d never do that drive with 3 little ones (and I had 5 kids in under 7 years). Bathroom breaks, meltdowns (we drove 12 hours with a 2 and 4 year old, it was horrible, especially the ride home when the 2 year old had a stomach bug).
     

    stsomewhere

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 13, 2008
    We drive all the time. It is about 20 hours from Detroit. My husband and I wold split the diving. We would leave about 8pm and drive straight through. The kids would sleep, watch movies, etc. My daughter waned a mother /daughter trip for he sweet 16. I left at 5am and drove to Valdosta. We stopped for food along the way. We arrived at the hotel around 10 pm. We relaxed. We got up the next morning, it was a 4 hour drive to Disney. Checked into hotel and hit the parks.

    We usually drive, we love getting last minute cruises but cost of airfare is crazy.
     
  • Todd Baker

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    May 12, 2018
    Thanks for all the replies. The concerns raised regarding cranky kids on a long drive are valid no doubt. I guess it all boils down - like most things - to personal preference. I'm truly undecided and I don't even think my wife is convinced about flying (she's not fond of flying herself, let alone with three kids who've never flown before). Lots of pros and cons on both sides. Hope to see some more comments from others. Thanks!
     

    kiramay

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 18, 2012
    We live on the northern IL border.
    2011 drove to Pensacola with a 1 year old and twin 6 year olds. It wasn’t too bad. Lots of snacks and entertainment. Baby slept a lot.

    2012 drove to Disney. Stopped in Macon, GA. It wasn’t too bad. Just a long time in the car. (Kids 2, 7, 7) Pro- it was super cold one day and we had all our winter things in the trunk, while kiosks were selling out of $35 mittens. Lol

    2014- flew. Kids first time. (4, 9, 9). Went really well! 2.5 hours in a plane vs 25 hours in a car. However, 4 year old caught something and spent half the trip sick with croup and a fever.

    2015- drove again. I was paranoid about him getting sick again. My kids where horrible in the car, especially on the way home. Swore never again.

    2017 back to flying. We have TSA Precheck so lines aren’t bad. We fly southwest so I can check up to 10 bags (2 pp) but I usually only need 3-4. Kids play on their iPads and we bring snacks. Flights were practically free with points.

    Flying again in November. Also almost free with points.
     

    saraheliz

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2009
    My kids have been great in the car on long trips from a young age (both of my oldest did 12-14 hour drives each way at a year old) but the key was not stopping. Stopping and trying to settle kids down in a hotel room was always the kiss of death, so we now just leave at 6am and drive straight through. That being said, if the cost was not a problem, I'd prefer flying. The 5 and 3 year olds should be pretty manageable on a plane, the 2 year old may be the only wildcard but often the white noise and motion knocks the right out. Getting through security is a pain but do-able.
     

    sponica

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 16, 2017
    Thanks for all the replies. The concerns raised regarding cranky kids on a long drive are valid no doubt. I guess it all boils down - like most things - to personal preference. I'm truly undecided and I don't even think my wife is convinced about flying (she's not fond of flying herself, let alone with three kids who've never flown before). Lots of pros and cons on both sides. Hope to see some more comments from others. Thanks!
    Honestly when the kids outnumber adults, I'm more inclined to drive.
     

    jalapeno_pretzel

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 13, 2015
    We found flying with our littles was easy peasy. The airport is such a new and amazing place with so much to look at that it would always hold their attention really well. And, coming from someone who also can be a nervous flier, dealing with the kids actually keeps me focused on something other than worrying and is a distraction in a good way. No way would I want to drive that.
     

    Todd Baker

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    May 12, 2018
    The new environment at the airport and the plane itself is something I'd hope would work in our favor. Our home is North of the city and we get planes approaching the airport to the South overhead all the time. The kids love to watch and my youngest seems to understand the flights are on a schedule since he likes to stand at his bedroom window every night watching for the lights overhead. But you never know how they'd react to a completely unfamiliar, busy, loud environment.
     

    SandyinMonterey

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 1, 2013
    We drive from Georgia to NJ twice a year. It’s a minimum 16 hour drive & we do it in 1 day. It easily extends longer with traffic & construction and there is always both. I hate it but husband refuses to fly. I can’t imagine a 20 hour car drive in 2 days. No way. I would fly.
     

    JK World

    Just me and my lil' man loving life!
    Joined
    Apr 4, 2017
    My son has been on several flights in his 4 years, and 2 road trips (I vastly prefer flying). At 2 years old he flew to New Orleans and Orlando, at 3 years old he flew to San Diego and Orlando. We have flights to El Paso and Orlando planned for this year. Never had an issue with any flight. Only had a nap on 1 of the 8 flights, but between snacks, books, stickers, small toys, and a tablet loaded with games and movies, all flights have been uneventful. It's all about preparation.

    I always do road trips overnight so he sleeps, but it's not pleasant for me since it means I don't sleep.
     

    Woody412

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 16, 2018
    It really comes down to the cost of flying for us. If I can find a price I’m willing to pay I’ll fly because of the speed and convenience. If I can’t we’ll drive,leaving from NY in the evening. Our 3 oldest were the exact same age as OP’s (5,3,2) the first time the 2 and 3 yr olds flew and they were perfectly fine. Either way I recommend Dramamine for “possible motion sickness.”
     

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